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A War Of Nerves

I wish you could be here," the Oxford Professor of Medicine wrote to a friend in 1915, "in this orgy of neuroses and psychoses and gaits and paralyses. I cannot imagine what has got into the central nervous system of the men." A War of Nerves is a history of military psychiatry in the twentieth century - an authoritative, accessible account drawing on a vast range of diaries, interviews, medical papers and official records. It reaches back to the moment when the technologies of modern warfare and the disciplines of mental medicine first confronted each other on the Western Front, and traces their uneasy relationship through the eras of 'shell-shock', combat fatigue and 'post-traumatic stress disorder'. At once absorbing historical narrative and intellectual detective story, it tells the full story of 'shell-shock'; explains the disastrous psychological aftermath of Vietnam; and shows how psychiatrists kept men fighting in Burma. But it also tries to answer recurring questions about the effects of war. Why do some men crack and others not? Are the limits of resistance determined by character, heredity, upbringing, ideology or simple biochemistry? It explores the ethical dil
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'Ben Shephard's study of how war wounds men's minds and of medicine's efforts to heal the damage done, is based on years of dedicated research. It is the best book I have read on the subject and will endure' John Keegan

About the Author

Ben Shephard was born in 1948 and read History at Oxford University. He was a Producer on the television series The World at War and The Nuclear Age and has made numerous historical and scientific documentaries for the BBC and Channel Four. He contributed to Imperialism and Popular Culture (1985), 150 Years of British Psychiatry, Volume 2- The Aftermath (1996) and A Century of Psychiatry (1999) and writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement. He lives in Bristol.


"Shephard's engaging and impressively researched study offers a detailed survey of psychiatric - and to a lesser extent, social and cultural - responses to war trauma from the First World War to the Gulf War of 1991... Thorough, thought-provoking and enormously informative" -- Paul Lerner * Times Literary Supplement * "This detailed study of psychiatric casualties in war will surely become the standard work of reference on this complex, difficult subject...enthralling" -- Anthony Storr * The Times * "Outstanding... Shepard tells this story with the skill of a thriller-writer as well as the assiduous pride of a historian... A bold, harrowing, provocative, fiercely intelligent work" -- Charles Fernyhough * Scotland on Sunday * "An utterly absorbing study of the century-long relationship between psychiatry and the military... The richness of his story derives from the sheer variety of experiences and personalities that it incorporates" -- Richard Overy * Literary Review * "Lively, discursive, constantly absorbing...succeeds for the most part in maintaining an admirably dispassionate position between the dismissive strictures of the hardened critic of modern psychiatry on the one hand and the exuberant messianic certainties of the zealots of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and drugs on the other" -- Anthony Clare * Sunday Times *

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